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filling the void

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Half-life 2 - Episode Two

I recently finished playing Half-life 2 - Episode two. When I first played the original Half-life 2, I was blown away not so much by the graphics engine, but by the graphics themselves. Sure, the marvelous physics engine was incredible, but the way they painted the landscape and the dysotopian future is what made me come back to the game and play it over again three times.
The colors they used, especially in the outdoor scenes, and the way things looked real was what really hit home.
I generally play FPSs for the story, and not to weave some skill. If FPS skill was what it was all about, I'd be doing de_dust day in and day out, but that's just not fun. (Ok, it's awesome, but for short periods of time).
The story that the team at Valve have spun, stretching over four installments of the Half-life 2 game (3 of which are currently available) is just incredible. The characters are all well made, incredibly well scripted and voices, and most of all, they are real. The only game where I have felt such reality was in Myst and Riven.
The first Half-life 2 game took me some 15-20 hours to play through. At the time I thought this was an acceptable amount of entertainment for the price of the game. The promise of episodic content to be released on a short schedule made my mouth water. The problem, as we all know, is that they failed to deliver. The first game came out in 2004, after having been postponed in 2003. The next episode came out in 2006. The whole point of having episodic content is that you run with the technology you have, and just create more content. This was supposed to lead to shorter inter-release times, but that apparently did not happen. They did a better job on episode 2, which was released just one year after episode one.

Now, as great as both episode one and episode two were to play, they lacked something fundamental, and that was time. They were both incredibly short. I finished episode two in 2/3 or the time that I finished episode one (6 and 9 hours, respectively).
Of course, people could say "play on a harder difficulty", but that's not the point. Sure that would make the battles themselves last longer, but in a game that is mostly about story, and very much about puzzle solving, this would not add as much time as it would add frustration and get in the way of the story.
Other than the time spent, I only have one gripe, and that's that Gordon's gloves looked like they were chromed. I can expect this kind of gloss from things like Need For Speed - Underground, but I expected a flatter and dryer look in Half-life 2. Also, the detail on some of the weapons was terrible, but these things could just have been texture glitches.

All in all I am very happy with what they've done with the game. My only hope is that episode three, the conclusion (which hopefully will ship around this time next year) will finish off with a bang, and take around 20 hours to complete. That way the start and the end would be balances, and episodes one and two could be seen as mere interludes.

Another wonderful feature is the directors commentary. I would have loved to have that in the original Half-life 2.
I also ran through portal in a couple of hours. It was a fun game, but I'm not as excited about is as the general gaming press seems to be. I did like GLaDOS though. All the cake references added another layer of sweetness (frosting?) to the game.

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